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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Blues Incorporated: Red Hot From Alex


BLUES INCORPORATED: RED HOT FROM ALEX (1964)

1) Woke Up This Morning; 2) Skipping; 3) Herbie's Tune; 4) Stormy Monday; 5) It's Happening; 6) Roberta; 7) Jones; 8) Cabbage Greens; 9) Chicken Shack; 10) Haitian Fight Song.

This studio album was recorded a month later than the Cavern show, but seems to have been offi­cially released earlier than the Cavern album — no big matter, since neither of the two was a prominent commercial or critical success. It is a good listen in its own right, but it has neither the energy nor the exuberant risk-taking of At The Cavern, consistent with the then-current practice of putting on a politely gallant face in the studio and leaving all the «stop-pulling» business for the live shows. This is the environment in which Alexis calls for tightness and discipline.

Unfortunately, a tightly disciplined Blues Incorporated, at best, comes across as a second-rate backing band for Louis Jordan — check ʽSkippingʼ, a professionally played jump-blues where Ron Edgeworth's organ, Alexis' own guitar, and three sax players form five near-ideal pieces of the puzzle, yet that «something special» still ends up missing, maybe because not one of the play­ers is ready to let the instincts take over, too afraid that something will fall out of place. It is this rational fear, I think, that prevented Alexis Korner from becoming Keith Richards, even if some of the licks he plays here are quite reminiscent of Keith's «anglicized Chuck Berry» style.

Likewise, the short version of ʽHerbie's Tuneʼ captured here is fairly academic and stiff compared to what they did to it on stage — where the saxophone screeched and whined like a demented pig under the knife, whereas here the pig just lazily grunts and snorts in its trough. Of course, the mix is better, the different instrumental parts are well defined, and Ron Edgeworth's organ adds an extra layer of depth that was all but unheard at The Cavern, but they are not even trying to cap­ture the same excitement.

Thematically, Korner, in addition to the old infatuation with 12-bar blues (ʽStormy Mondayʼ, with a stinging guitar solo, fairly decent for the pre-Clapton era) and jazz (ʽIt's Happeningʼ), seems to have also become a big fan of Booker T. & The MGs, ripping off ʽGreen Onionsʼ on his poorly masked ʽCabbage Greensʼ — he gets everything right except for the «evil» vibe that made ʽGreen Onionsʼ so devilish where ʽCabbage Greensʼ is so utterly inoffensive. ʽHaitian Fight Songʼ is a bit better, but still way too tame to match the promise of its title. At best, it sounds like a behind-the-stage preparation for an actual fight.

Still, even if Red Hot From Alex should rather read Stone Cold From Alex, there may well be people to whom this «perfectionist» take on rhythm & blues will be dearer than garage rock. The album does have the distinction of being the first well-produced, clear-sounding record to come out of Alexis Korner's camp, and now it sounds like Manfred Mann without the irritating nursery pop ditties — serious, but totally accessible mix of blues, jazz, and dance music whose only fault was in that nobody really needed this kind of music from Britain at the time. Even if he wanted to (which he didn't), Alexis Korner could never become part of the «British Invasion» — this whole thing was strictly for internal consumption, and even then, only as long as the US import market still remained relatively underdeveloped. Only in long-term retrospect is it possible to see that the guy was honestly trying to reinterpret his influences, not just copycat them — and that he just didn't quite have the talent to make these reinterpretations transparent for everybody. A modest thumbs up here, but teetering dangerously on the edge of «blank indifference».

Check "Red Hot From Alex" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Red Hot From Alex (MP3) on Amazon

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